Gwynne Lewis, who recently joined the IMarEST as CEO, reveals his hopes and plans for the Institute, what’s on his to-do list, and the best career advice he learned from.
What has it been like joining as CEO at a such a turbulent time?
Joining a new organisation is exciting but hard when everyone is working remotely. It’s strange being two months or so into the job and still having not met all the team. As we emerge from lockdown and begin to reopen our London office, it’s fantastic to finally meet them – and not just via Zoom.
I’ve been impressed by how everyone embraced the technology of remote working and continued delivering services to our members and support for an industry that has suffered greatly throughout the pandemic. None more so than seafarers who’ve kept trade flowing while coping with the emotional strain of not knowing when they might next come ashore and be reunited with their families.
If there is one lesson here for the engineers, technologists, and scientists in our sector, it is that we must build a more resilient future.
What’s on your to-do list as CEO over the next few months – and your aims as CEO?
This year’s annual conference was a huge success and a priority will be to build on that for future events. Although the virtual-only format was due to circumstances outside our control, it proved to be a winner, with a staggering rise in attendance and wider global participation compared to last year. It also demonstrated the value of IMarEST TV as an on-demand catch-up service.
“A longer-term goal is to strengthen the profile of the Institute as a voice that should be listened to.”
Conferences, lectures, and meetings of our special interest groups are vital to the Institute’s goals of sharing knowledge and expertise, facilitating constructive debate and expanding public understanding of the marine sector, so we must make them work for our members – and as an attractive proposition for non-members.
But holding everything virtually has shortcomings, particularly when greater interaction or a more fluid style of collaboration is required, or for networking and getting to know people. So, we will be exploring options for developing hybrid events with virtual and physical components.
A longer-term goal is to strengthen the profile of the Institute and give it more clout as a voice that should be listened to – not just in the corridors of IMO and other non-governmental organisations, which benefit from our impartial technical input, but more widely across the people and businesses that make up the marine sector.
It is a challenge as we represent many sectors and our message must resonate with engineers, scientists, and technologists.
We also want to boost our membership proposition and its long-term benefits. Professional registration is important, but equally important is creating opportunities for members to develop their skills and grow in their chosen career field, as well as to connect across disciplines. It is at these intersections where interesting things tend to happen.
Tell us some highlights from your 30-year career
One was a project I oversaw to lengthen the MV Buffalo, a P&O ferry, in the late 1990s, whilst I was at BMT.
We had devised an innovative solution to meet the new safety requirements under the SOLAS convention and, at the same time, to increase cargo capacity and improve efficiency.
The project entailed cutting the vessel in half, inserting a new parallel mid-body section, and putting the three pieces back together. It was technically demanding.
When cutting a ship in half, both halves needed to remain watertight and stable while being manoeuvred to insert the mid-section. We had a fantastic team planning, designing and executing the work, but even with the meticulous preparation and professionalism, there were some critical moments.
We managed it and the Technical Director told me it was the best conversion he had ever commissioned, and the best dry-docking too.
Another highlight was taking over as head of Lloyd’s Register’s Marine Consultancy business. The goal was to grow the business organically by extending the reach of our in-house technical expertise globally.
It was rewarding to come up with different strategies, test and tweak them, and then watch as our activities expanded in new areas – similar to the process employed in more hands-on engineering projects.
But the highlight has to be the people, the customers, colleagues, industry leaders and others, I’ve met over the years. Many have become lifelong friends.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
I once attended a bulk carrier that was operated by British Steel at Port Talbot, South Wales and got talking to the ship’s superintendent.
He asked me my definition of a good deal. At the time I was at the start of my career and wasn’t in the habit of reading business management books, but nevertheless made a few suggestions based on my experience.
Needless to say, none of my responses satisfied him. He said: “A good deal is when the supplier and customer would do identical business on identical terms again.”
I realised he had point, because the best business relationships and partnerships you forge are the ones which, when you look back, you can think of nothing you would’ve done differently.